East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert will pursue a transfer to end his college football career at another program, East Carolina announced Monday. Benkert is scheduled to graduate from East Carolina this spring, which will make him eligible to compete right away at another FBS program this fall according to NCAA graduate transfer rules. It was not announced where Benkert will transfer.
“I am saddened to announce that I am transferring from East Carolina University,” Benkert said in a statement released by ECU. “I am very blessed for the opportunity that ECU has given me in obtaining my degree, and am forever thankful for the support from such great coaches, teammates, faculty and fans. This was a very tough decision that came from a lot of sleepless nights and conversations from those close to me. With that being said, I feel it is in my best interest to explore other options for graduate school. Thank you again Pirate Nation for the support throughout the last three years, it was never unnoticed and I will forever be grateful for it.”
Benkert was lost for the 2015 season to a right knee injury. With Benkert unable to play for the Pirates, Blake Kemp ended up being East Carolina’s top quarterback with 2,658 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. The Pirates now have four quarterbacks on the roster, including Philip Nelson, who was dismissed from Rutgers after a transfer from Minnesota amid some serious legal trouble). Nelson is the likely leading candidate for the starting job for East Carolina.
So much for that whole Brady Hoke to East Carolina idea. Going against the grains of some of the more recent reports regarding the head coach search at East Carolina, it appears Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery will be named the new head coach of the Pirates. Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com reported that news late Saturday night. Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated also reported the news.
The 37-year old first-time head coach had been Duke’s offensive coordinator for the past two seasons following a year as wide receivers coach. Montgomery also coached quarterbacks at Duke in addition to his duties with calling offensive plays. Montgomery, a North Carolina native, is a Duke graduate, started his coaching career at Duke before jumping to a role with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL for three years before returning to his alma mater in 2013. Montgomery also played in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders and a brief run on the Carolina Panthers practice squad. He also played a season with the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League.
As with most first-time head coaches, there is a valid reason to have questions about this hire for East Carolina, especially since it fired Ruffin McNeil from the position following his first losing season in four years. McNeil was 43-34 as head coach of the ECU program, with just two losing seasons with 5-7 marks (2011, 2015). McNeil is heading to the ACC to be a part of the Virginia coaching staff assembled by new head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The hiring of Montgomery is also a bit of a small surprise considering previous reports were suggesting former Michigan coach Brady Hoke and James Madison head coach Everett Withers were thought to be finalists for the job. Others that interviewed for the position included Virginia Tech’s Shane Beamer and North Carolina State offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Montgomery will now get a chance to prove his worth and value as a head coach, and if he is successful he may end up staying on Duke’s radar for whenever the time comes to find a replacement for David Cutcliffe. After all, Montgomery is clearly a Duke guy, and if he proves he can be a solid head coach, he will most certainly be one of the names to keep in mind when the Duke vacancy opens up. But first, let’s see if he can cut it as a head coach at East Carolina, a program that should be capable of competing for an American Athletic Conference championship.
2013 record: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in ACC (1st in Coastal division)
2013 postseason: Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Texas A&M (52-48 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 23/No. 22
Head coach: David Cutcliffe (75-73 overall; 3144 in 6 years at Duke)
Offensive coordinator: Scottie Montgomery (First season as offensive coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 54th rushing offense (178 ypg); 50th passing offense (248.1 ypg); 47th total offense (426.1 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Defensive coordinator: Jim Knowles (6th season as defensive coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 76th rushing defense (174.14 ypg); 84th passing defense (243.9 ypg); 83rd total defense (418.0 ypg); 64th scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Stadium: Wallace Wade Stadium (33,941; Grass)
Last conference title: 1989 (shared with Virginia)
Duke returns a good number of starters from last season, including star wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Braxton Deaver. The two should make for a strong 1-2 punch in the passing game with Anthony Boone taking on full-time responsibilities this fall. Boone brings a good amount of experience to the position and should feel comfortable despite a change in offensive coordinator. Dukes defense returns three starters in the secondary, a position that was ready to rise to the occasion in 2013. Duke also plays n a division that sees nobody ready to step up and grab firm control of the division race, something the program benefitted from at least in part last fall. Duke may not have the overall skill that others may have, but the ability to play together may be unrivaled in the ACC Coastal Division and that has to count for something at some point.
Duke’s defensive line was not particularly great in 2013 and now must replace three starters on the line. The line will see Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo move into a more prominent role after leading the Blue Devils in sacks in 013, but Duke needs to find a way to slow down opposing offenses capable of running the football to take the pressure off the secondary. Duke allowed a little more than four yards per play in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State and then allowed Texas A&M to storm back with some big plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The holes of the defense have been exposed, giving the Blue Devils something to work on in 2014 before taking whatever the next step is for the program.
How much of Duke’s success the past couple of seasons has been based on the work being done in Durham and how much has been influenced by the sputtering of the rest fo the ACC Coastal? In 2014, will Duke prove worthy of division champion favorite status or will Duke start to fall back in the wide open division as North Carolina, Miami or Virginia Tech potentially start to work back up the division?
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Miami
Duke will get an early chance to set themselves apart from the rest of the ACC Coastal Division when they travel to Miami for a late-September contest, the first in ACC play for Duke. When they arrive in Miami Duke could (should) be 4-0 and already sniffing another bowl berth before flipping over to October. The contest against Miami could prove pivotal in the Coastal race so if Duke can slow down Duke Johnson‘s running and force any mistakes by a questionable quarterback situation, Duke could return home with a 5-0 record and feeling very good heading into a light and easy October with a pair of bye weeks to work with.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Wide receiver Jamison Crowder
Without much doubt, Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder is the most outstanding offensive player on the Blue Devils roster. Last season Crowder was second in the ACC in receiving with 1,360 yards (trailing only Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, who was pretty good too). Crowder will continue to be the go-to receiver for Duke and he will pile up the yardage along the way, proving why he was voted a preseason All-ACC receiver.
(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)